the season has truly begun now
Editor's note: I moved this weekend and am currently on the floor two feet from the modem; I'll be out the rest of the day assembling the new place.
In two sections for balance: calls that went in favor of Michigan and calls against Michigan. Importance is somewhat… uh… important, but here we're looking for the biggest ref boners of the decade. Games that finish 60-7 don't make the cut but a terrible call in a game that's competitive does even if that call doesn't swing the game.
Spartan Bob is excluded since that was not an error.
In Which Michigan Is Bailed Out
5. Braylon's catch-like-substance against Washington
This set up the #2 play of the decade, in which Phil Brabbs nailed a 44-yard field goal to give Michigan a last-second win against top-ten Washington:
Despite its huge importance, this play checks in last because you can make a case that Edwards did bring the ball in and move upfield before it popped loose. It's at least close.
4. Armageddon bailout
This is not on the 'tubes, unfortunately, so you'll just have to take my word for it. From that game's UFR:
Herbstreit immediately bursts into a spiel about how that's obvious interference and I'm like 'no it isn't.' This ball is well underthrown -- Mario had burned O'Neal crispy -- allowing the S to get back into the play. He doesn't look, the ball hits him in the back or arm or something, and Manningham's progress is never impeded. This is the same kind of crappy call we've been getting on our DBs all year, and it's still crappy when it happens in our favor. (IN, 1, protection 2/2)
That was fourth and sixteen on Michigan's 44 with time running out in Football Armageddon and Michigan down ten; given the gift of new life on a pass interference call that didn't even see the defensive back touch the receiver, Michigan would score and get the opportunity to attempt an onside kick.
3. Bryant Johnson's inexplicable non-catch
The clip below contains back-to-back plays in the 2004 Penn State game; this entry deals with the second, when Bryant Johnson came up with a patented Zack Mills Hopeful Downfield Jump Ball, got not one but two feet in-bounds, and was somehow ruled out of bounds:
If Bryant was correctly ruled in-bounds Penn State would have been in game-winning field goal range with almost a minute left on the clock to set up a chip shot.
2. Illinois double fumble mishap
Fumbles are hard. But even so you these plays late in the fourth quarter of a game Michigan was trailing by three caused outrage in Champaign, then outrage in Ann Arbor after the Big Ten took the unprecedented step of apologizing for them:
Harvey was down. If your helmet hits the ground, you are down. (If anything other than your foot or hand hits the ground, you're down) Thomas was not. The two plays were separated by just one six-yard Askew run, and to this day whenever you're pretending you care about the Illini to an Illini fan they will bring this up. Unlike Penn State, they've got beef.
Michigan ended up losing this game but other than the dadaist Oregon-Oklahoma onside kick there has probably never been a worse call in college football. It's the 2008 Michigan State game and Michigan has a third and goal from around the ten. Steven Threet tosses a wheel route to Minor that's juuust a bit outside, Minor catches it but lands well out of bounds, field goal team comes on, and then the ref gets buzzed.
In the stands people are trying to figure out why. Multiple theories are passed around, none of which stick. As best we can figure there's a confusing television angle in which it looks like Minor managed to get a foot down that will be quickly shown false and we can get on with our lives. The call does not come. We are waiting too long for something not to be amiss. At this point, the replay official should be calling someone to double-check his insane rule interpretation, but he's not. He's just calling it down: Brandon Minor is in the endzone because his foot touched the pylon, which is "part of the endzone" in one part of the rulebook. Problem: in another part of the rulebook it is specifically declared not something that can make a catch in-bounds.
As the ref raises his hands sheepishly, 105,700 people in Michigan Stadium know that something has just gone wrong—everyone but the replay official. The Big Ten later admits error and promotes Jim Augustine to praetor.
This is number one because it's a perfect storm of ineptness: the call was right on the field and was overturned to be incorrect by the replay official
Specifically Omitted Non-Errors
Two seconds of whining lasts a lifetime. For the last time, Penn State fans: asking for time on the clock because the clock operator did not stop the thing after the ref called timeout is not a bad call. You know who thinks that? Joe Paterno, who called timeout on Penn State's last drive and then badgered the refs for two extra seconds on the clock and got them.
Heel-toe. In that same game, Jason Avant picked up a key first down on a pass on the sideline where his toe came down in-bounds an instant before his heel struck out of bounds. The NCAA rulebook is very generous when it comes to getting in bounds: if any bit of you hits in bounds, you are in bounds.
Correct. In last year's Notre Dame game, Armando Allen stepped out of bounds on a screen that looked like it went for a touchdown. Replay overturned the call and ND eventually settled for a field goal. Notre Dame fans complain about this.
Outrages(!) In Which Michigan Is Screwed
5. Bryant Johnson inexplicable catch
This should look familiar:
This is the first Bryant Johnson catch-type substance where Johnson hits the ground and the ball immediately flies out as he hits the ground. The ground can't cause a fumble but it certainly can cause you to not catch the ball, and Johnson never had control. On third and forever, this would have forced a Penn State punt and allowed Michigan a chance to win in regulation.
4. Sure, his entire body is in the endzone but maybe the ball isn't
This wouldn't have been an issue if Chad Henne hadn't fumbled the ball on the ensuing snap from the one-inch line, but he did so holy hell:
It is impossible for someone to be in that position after the play is over and to have not scored a touchdown. As a bonus, Notre Dame had twelve guys on the field and was not called, not that that would have prevented Henne from fumbling on the next play.
3. That's not even a phantom touchdown, it's a phantom run to the one
In the 2002 Notre Dame game, all manner of infuriating stuff happened as Michigan blew the momentum from their win over Washington in a 25-23 loss to the Notre Dame team that inaugurated the jokes about Field Goal Jesus. One of the non-field-goals was a touchdown-type substance by Carlyle Holiday in which the guy fumbled at the two (the two!) and still managed to convince the refs that he had entered the endzone ball-in-hand. Since Michigan lost and Notre Dame's version of Wolverine Historian is a slacker, there is no video of the dread event. It did make it into the game recaps…
Michigan committed another costly error when receiver Tyrece Butler fumbled at his own 24 and Holiday scored on a three-yard run with 23 seconds left in the half. Holiday appeared to fumble before reaching the end zone, but the officials still signaled a touchdown.
...in case anyone thinks I'm insane.
2. Domata Peko fumble rumble
I was at this game and after the replay official upheld the call on the field we complained so loud and long that an elderly Michigan State fan threatened us. But if any college fanbase was familiar with the intricacies of the tuck rule, it was that of the school which produced both Tom Brady and Charles Woodson. We had a righteous cause:
In the aftermath, rule books were delved into, laws specifically addressing the situation unearthed, and slack-jawed gaping disbelief retroactively justified:
When a Team A player is holding the ball to pass it forward toward the neutral zone, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts the forward pass. If a Team B player contacts the passer or ball after forward movement begins and the ball leaves the passer's hand, a forward pass is ruled regardless of where the ball strikes the ground or a player (A.R. 2-19-2-I).
Michigan ended up with the win but it took overtime; without the error Michigan likely wins by somewhere in the range of seven to ten points in regulation.
1. If your elbow hits the ground and you're not Antonio Bass, you're down
1. If your elbow hits the ground and you're not Antonio Bass, you're down
This takes the cake because, like the Minor touchdown, it was a correct call on the field overturned by an inept or possibly insane replay official. It should be noted that it was karmically justified, as the refs had missed an ultra-rare Mike Hart fumble in the first half and the replay official then failed to buzz; there were also a couple of comically bad pass interference calls, one of which was seven yards downfield and saw Iowa inexplicably penalized fifteen yards. Iowa had a ridiculous call in their favor coming.
They got it. Antonio Bass came in for another of his Incredibly Surprising Quarterback Draws. Though intermittently effective on the day, Iowa stoned this one, getting Bass in the backfield and flipping him almost head-over-heels. As Bass crashed to the ground his elbow hit first, causing the ball to pop loose. Iowa recovered, the refs on the field ruled him down, and then the buzz came. After five minutes of looking at Bass's elbow touch the ground first, the replay official awarded Iowa the ball:
Unfortunately, the clip does not show the many copious replays that showed Bass was down but the reaction of announcers normally loathe to criticize officials should suffice.
(Odd side note: all of these plays are from 2002 or 2005.)
Special Lifetime Total Lack Of Achievement Award
The 2005 Alamo Bowl, in its entirety.
6. Roy Roundtree is tackled at the one yard line
Early in the third quarter of the 2009 Illinois game, Michigan is leading 13-7 when Tate Forcier hits Roy Roundtree on a seam up the middle. The safeties are out of position and Roundtree sets sail for the endzone, Terry Hawthorne in tow. Hawthorne tackles Roundtree at the goal line; the play is initially ruled a touchdown but correctly called back on replay. Four attempts from the one are stoned; instead of being up 20-7 Michigan is up 13-7. From there the defense gives up 31 points to a terrible team, causing mass chaos.
This, unlike everything else on the list, was not something that directly lost a game. It's actually a great play, a strike down the middle of the field that set Michigan up with a first and goal from the one. Michigan's chances at winning the game went up after it, also unlike everything else on the list. In now way should Roundtree be held responsible for getting tracked down at the one after seventy yards. Sometimes the other guy is just faster than you.
It was what happened afterward that enshrines this play in Michigan infamy. Up until the exact moment Roundtree's knee hit the turf Michigan was on track to recovery from the 3-9 season. Preseason projections of a 7-5 and a crappy bowl game were well within reach, as Illinois was sure to pack it in after going down 20-7 early in the third quarter and Purdue was flailing around. Michigan's losses had been acceptable: a whitewashing at Penn State was ugly but the other two were at MSU in overtime and at Iowa in a two-point game. Big deal, first and goal, let's put it in:
That happened. Then the defense caved in, allowing 31 second-half points.
In the aftermath, this blog got locked down, I talked about how my soul-dong had been crushed, and Rodriguez's job came under serious threat for the first time. If this year is the end for Rich Rodriguez—and Michigan sets off on another awkward transition—the beginning of that end was right here.
5. Spartan Bob
Michigan State scores a last-play touchdown to beat Michigan after the home timekeeper freezes the play clock early. Larry Stevens is roped to the ground like a pig in a poke, too, but… yeah. The cheat was blatant enough for ESPN to break it down frame-by-frame and declare Michigan hosed. State "wins" 26-21.
Once back at the dawn of time I was playing Tecmo Super Bowl against my brother. As it is with brothers, games were intense, unsporting things in which I, the older, invariably prevailed. Once, though, I called the crazy reverse flea-flicker play deep in my own end in an unusually tight game. My brother tackled the receiver at about the two, but after he'd pitched the ball back to the quarterback. Tecmo Super Bowl glitched spectacularly, though, and did its little ditty as it declared my receiver to have taken a game-sealing safety.
Enraged, I immediately hit reset.
That was this play-type substance, except the glitch was an intentional act and life, as of yet, has no reset button. Compounding matters is that Larry Stevens was spectacularly held—a primary reason Jeff Smoker had eons of time to find TJ Duckett. End result: rage like has never been seen before or again in a certain rental house belonging to a friend of a friend on Plymouth. As a blubbering Bobby Williams wept through a post-game interview I swore little demons into existence as I declared my eternal hatred of the man. Eventually I stormed outside so I would not be kicked out.
In football, you might not get justice all the time—see the 2005 Alamo Bowl, please—but at least when you don't there is the tiny consolation that the gibbering sack of incoherence that robbed you of justice didn't mean it. This is something wholly different.
4. Nick Sheridan hurls a wobbly duck in the general direction of four Utah defenders
With under a minute left in the first half against Utah, Nick Sheridan drops back to pass and, under little pressure, lofts a mortar that four Utah players have a better shot at than the best-positioned Michigan receiver. Brandstatter groans "oh, no, Nick." Utah intercepts it and punches it in a few plays later.
This did end up in a rankling Utah touchdown that extended the Utes' lead to 12; that touchdown would end up being the winning points after Michigan scratched its way to a competitive second half. So it was a game-losing play.
But that was small potatoes compared to what the play represented. First of all, the whole idea was preposterous, a terrible throw into triple coverage in a situation where caution was a priority. Worse than that was the back-foot windup Sheridan deployed to chuck an artillery shell 30 yards downfield. Such was its accuracy that any of three Michigan receivers could have been the target-like substance; such was its pace that if one Utah secondary member didn't pick it off another one would have found it gently tickling his fingers as it nuzzled its way into the crook of his arm.
As Michigan Stadium settled into a halftime funk, the hivemind thought: we are so fucked. In one searing instant Sheridan erased all the foolish hopes Michigan fans had that their walk-on quarterback could be anything approximating functional and exposed the vast talent deficiency that's driven Michigan to the bottom of the Big Ten. If there was ever an oh, shiiiiiiiiiit moment for Michigan football, this was it.
The next week this ran through my mind as I told WCBN that the upcoming Notre Dame game was "critical for bowl eligibility." It wasn't but only because that wobbly-duck-induced panic was so, so right. There were probably worse things that happened in 2008, but as the indignities piled on each other numbness sets in; the Sheridan interception was the knockout blow. The rest was just kicking a man on the ground.
3. Anthony Thomas fumbles for no reason whatsoever against Northwestern
Leading Northwestern 51-46 in the craziest game ever played by the Wolverines, Anthony Thomas bursts through the Wildcat defense for a game-clinching first down, then drops the ball without being touched. Northwestern recovers and scores to win.
I didn't actually see this play live. Michigan was playing Michigan State back when the CCHA was the Big Two and Little Ten and if there was anything I hated more than Ron Mason's brand of energy-sapping anti-hockey it was how unbelievably good Ryan Miller was. Michigan State games at Yost were pure bloodsport, so I headed out. The final quarter of this game is the only Michigan football I've missed since my enrollment.
This was a good thing, because when I finally found out what had gone so terribly wrong with the force sometime during the first period I was in disbelief. Michigan needed a first down to seal the game. Anthony Thomas broke through the line and could have guaranteed a Michigan victory merely by falling over. Instead he dropped the ball without a Northwestern player so much as touching him, allowing the unstoppable Wildcat offense the opportunity to win the game. If I had actually watched this live I probably would have died. Even though I never had the raw emotional experience of it, finding the clip was a sickening experience. There should be "I Survived The Anthony Thomas Fumble" t-shirts.
The costs were severe. Michigan finished in a three-way tie atop the Big Ten with Purdue and Northwestern, sending the Brees-led Boilers to the Rose Bowl. There they lost to the 10-1 Washington Huskies. Michigan had to settle for a Citrus Bowl date against Auburn.
2. Shawn Crable blocks the outside guy
The Horror: trailing 34-32 with hardly any time left on the clock, Chad Henne throws a hopeless moonball to Mario Manningham that Manningham actually comes down with, setting up a makeable field goal. That field goal is blocked because Crable and Greg Banks split like a cheap zipper, allowing an opponent to run unimpeded at the kicker.
I'd already started my exit from Michigan Stadium before the moonball that set Michigan up with an improbable final attempt at evading the biggest upset in the history of college football*. I was disgusted and given the situation, the slight chance of winning the game was less of a priority than not getting stuck in the Stadium longer than a nanosecond after it ended. So I watched the final drama from the aisle.
I didn't even know that an Appalachian State guy had picked the ball up and started trucking for the endzone until Tuesday. I was already stalking my way home.
*(At least for the next few weeks, anyway. Before the season was out not one but two bigger dogs rose up and overcame. Syracuse and Stanford, we thank you kindly.)
1. Shawn Crable goes helmet to helmet on Troy Smith.
Ohio State, 2006: Michigan trails by three late in the fourth quarter of a game with no defense and finally manages to get Ohio State into a third and long. Troy Smith drops back, but can't find anyone. Smith gets pressure and bugs out, flushing up out of the pocket and scrambling uselessly on third and forever. Shawn Crable comes up to knock him out of bounds; in doing so, he bashes Smith helmet to helmet, drawing a 15-yard flag that extends the Buckeye drive. OSU would score a game-clinching touchdown.
The previous play has much to recommend it as the worst thing that's ever happened to anyone outside of a Lars Von Trier movie, and, yes, even if Crable pulls up Michigan is a long way away from actually beating Ohio State. Michigan's last ditch touchdown drive that allowed them an onside kick required a terrible fourth-down pass interference call to be successful and for much of that drive Ohio State's strategy was to give up yards as long as it bled the clock. Up only three, OSU would have been considerably less accommodating unless Jim Herrmann was pulling a Mission: Impossible stunt on the opposing sideline.
But if you're looking for a moment at which Michigan ceased being Michigan, this is it. Ohio State had evened, then tilted the balance of the rivalry their way in the first few years of Jim Tressel's tenure but a Michigan win in Football Armageddon would have made it 2-3 in the Tressel era with the all-important Biggest Game Ever in Michigan's corner. They would have put up more of a fight against Florida if only because the left tackle was Jake Long and would not have been a turnstile all night. In some extremely abstract sense Bo's death would have been avenged, or something. The five hours I was stuck in Columbus afterward, waiting for a man not named Skeeter and wondering if I was actually going to strangle him with my bare hands, would have been almost pleasant.
None of that happened. The next three things to happen to Michigan football were another uncompetitive Rose Bowl against USC, The Horror, and the Post Apocalyptic Oregon game. The Bo era had persisted through a couple coaching changes, 8-4 malaise, and the Year of Infinite Pain; it ended at the same time I crumpled to my seat in the OSU student section.
That play against Ohio State(2007) … a John Navarre pass deflects off the bottom of Braylon Edwards's foot and is intercepted by USC in the 2004 Rose Bowl (2003) … Hayden Epstein misses a 27 yard field goal against UCLA in a 3-point loss (2000) … KC Lopata misses a 27-yard field goal against Toledo in a three-point loss (2008) … Steven Threet throws a 100-yard pick six in that same game (2008) … Washington blocks a would-be game-clinching field goal and returns it for a touchdown (2001) … on the next play a Navarre pass is batted skyward by a Michigan receiver and Washington returns that for a touchdown, too (2001) … Marquise Walker drops a sure touchdown during Michigan's storming second-half comeback in the 2001 Edition of the Game … John Navarre promptly throws a game killing interception afterwards (2001) … Tennessee's Jason Witten outruns the entire Michigan secondary at some point during the 2002 Citrus whitewashing (2001) … Braylon Edwards is called for offensive pass interference against OSU (2002) … Chad Henne wings an interception directly at a ND safety when he had Avant open for a touchdown (2005) … Henne fumbles on a QB sneak from inside the one in the same game (2005) …virtually any defensive play during the Post Apocalyptic Oregon Game (2007) … Tate Forcier chucks a terrible interception in overtime against Michigan State (2009) … Denard Robinson chucks a terrible interception on the last drive against Iowa (2009) … Mike Williams lets a deep post behind him on third and thirty-seven in the same game (2009) … Forcier gives Ohio State a free touchdown to start the 2009 Game (2009) … and then throws five interceptions (2009).
What do you do? I'm supposed to type. I do this. I'm here now and I have responsibility to put words here. But there are no words. I tap stuff out and erase. Everything longer than two words is crass. Now? How can it be now?
The Michigan locker room is going to be a quiet before the game tomorrow. I envision players quietly going about their various preparations: donning pads. Taping wrists. Applying eye-black. Cinching and tying, little tasks that pass the time. In between their thoughts will flutter sidelong at what awaits outside. A few may analyze the enormity of it in their heads directly. Harris. Hart. Breaston. Most will fall into the routine that has taken them from game to game since they first put on a helmet, falling into the patterns that people use to navigate when their brains shut down in fear or alarm or panic. They will proceed down the grooves they've worn in their life, and when they emerge onto the field they will operate more on animal instinct than anything else.
Sport as war may have grown trite; sport as war may be vaguely offensive with the nation vaguely at actual war. But what is left when you emerge into a maelstrom of hate under a gunmetal grey sky and meet an implacable mirror of yourself? Are we to compare it to canasta? Whist? Bridge? Knitting clubs? Michigan will battle Ohio State hand and foot. It will be vicious, maiming, disabling. The winner claims dominion. Sometimes what's trite is true. When the stakes elevate to this sort of level there's nothing else to compare it to.
Sport as war, clean war, where the champions of Good meet the champions of Evil on a mutually agreed battleground. According to the established rules, after three hours one is defeated utterly. The other is triumphant. The grey stops when the clouds do. We have taken the horror of war and stripped it down to its beating, thrilling heart. The term "Football Armageddon" is only partly in jest. Victory here is eternal. In 2006, Michigan beat Ohio State. Ohio State beat Michigan. Every year this is "The Game." This is The Game of Games.
We saw the dragon move down
My father burned into coal
My mother saw it from far
She took her purse to the bed
I saw a sign in the sky
Seven horns, seven horns, seven horns
I heard a voice in my mind
I am Lord, I am Lord, I am Lord
And then you try to figure out why the stakes are so high in the first place. Why this entire week you haven't been able to concentrate on anything by war by proxy. Fake war by proxy. Meaningless war by proxy. You will suffer humiliation when the team from my area defeats the team from your area. It's ridiculous. Intelligent people do not spend a goodly swath of their life pouring emotion and precious time into a contest that affects no one and changes nothing except some inky scribbles in media guides.
You wonder why. It occurs that at some point the Michigan program acquired the traits you hold dear -- loyalty, honesty, tradition, victory. And you wonder: if you were a different person who valued other things would you care so much? It occurs that at some point the Michigan program acquired other traits you share but do not hold particularly dear -- cantankerousness, stubbornness, an inability to suffer fools gladly. And you wonder: do I like Michigan because of the way I am, or am I the way I am because I like Michigan?
The answer seems clear.
Now the man who took that rudderless program and gave it -- gave you -- all the things you like and don't like is dead. In 1969, it all started with a victory over #1 Ohio State.
He will take you
At some point, as David Harris reclines -- head against a wall, fixing his bayonet, passing the time -- the faint ratatat of drums will filter through the concrete, beating out a march. Harris will rise from his seat, take up his helmet, and stride forward. The future holds its breath for three hours.
If you run, he will chase you
There's only one thing left. Play. Fight. Win. Please.
It returns! This week's guest is Tom Orr, who you may remember from last year's version of this feature. Until this year, when he broke off and decided to start a super-sweet secret Internet project, Tom was the designated Michigan Monday guy at the OZone.
What's Boone's status for the game? He had a scope a couple weeks ago, right? Will he play and will he be 100%? How big of a deal will it be if he's not?
He's supposedly going to play, which I guess is not much of a surprise. The thought of Boone, Kirk Barton, Tim Schafer or anyone else going one-on-one with LaMarr Woodley is not a particularly comforting one, whether they're 100% or not. I'm expecting to see a lot of tight ends staying in to block and/or Stan White and Dionte Johnson staying in the backfield in passing situations. Keeping Troy Smith in one piece is a rather significant piece of the puzzle for this year's team.
Any concerns with Smith's thumb? Deep ball accuracy and such?
Compared to the "blocking Woodley" situation? Not really. I guess it could be an issue, especially if it's really windy. The last forecast I saw was for winds of 10-20 mph, which shouldn't screw things up too badly.
I have a feeling the pass protection will play a bigger role in deciding whether OSU can throw deep than Troy's thumb.
The conventional wisdom holds that Ohio State will eschew conventional sets and go with an exclusively spread look. Do you think this will be the gameplan?
I think a spread formation allows OSU to go after the weak link (such as it is) of Michigan's defense, that being the DBs. The more you can get lineman and linebackers off the field and guys like Brandon Harrison, Charles Stewart and/or Johnny Sears on it, the better off you are.
However (and I hate to beat this into the ground), it's going to depend on the line's ability to block Michigan's front four. If you have to keep an extra guy or two in there to keep Troy Smith from getting turned inside out, you can't go five or perhaps even four-wide.
Michigan's run defense has been outstanding all year. Opponents have basically given up on the run before the game starts, saving runs for a change of pace. Will Ohio State try to establish the run or will they try to pass until we loosen up? What sort of success do you see Ohio State having on the ground?
I don't think you're going to see a 25-carry game out of anyone on the offense. This just has the feel of a 15-carry for Pittman, 5-carry for Chris Wells kind of day. They'll run to keep Michigan honest, but as for lining up in the I-formation and pounding the ball, I just don't see it happening. If Pittman hits 100 yards on the ground, it would probably take something really weird (tons of turnovers, cheap TDs on defense or special teams) for Michigan to win.
I would not be surprised to see some variations on the option-choice plays with Smith in the shotgun, deciding at the snap whether to hand it to Pittman going one way or to keep it and take off going the other. I think you'll see a lot more of that than you will the old-school pounding the ball between the tackles.
Do you think the Michigan secondary is vulnerable? That Harrison vs. Hartline/Robiske thing doesn't seem like the world's best option, but it's also a third-wr versus a nickel back. Gonzalez and Ginn versus Trent and Hall... advantage who?
Honestly, that's the biggest advantage that OSU has. I don't know if that's a good thing for Michigan or Ohio State.
I kind of think Michigan will put Leon Hall on Gonzalez and let Morgan Trent cover Ginn, likely with safety help on most plays. I don't see either one of those guys breaking 50 yards receiving. [!!!!!!!!!!!!!! -ed]
If OSU wins, they've already got the Player of the Game trophy engraved with Troy Smith's name, but I think a guy like Brian Robiskie or Brian Hartline is going to be the one who is the true MVP. Sort of like how it was a total joke for Tom Brady to win the Super Bowl MVP over Mike Vrabel a few years ago when Vrabel made one of the biggest plays of the game on both sides of the ball.
(Ahem.) [Orr is being shot right now for daring to question Tom Brady. -ed]
Scrambly, scrambly, scrambly. Devastating or not?
Not as consistently devastating as it was two years ago, but I think he's got one good one in him on a third down or some other key play.
One would have to assume that stopping Smith from running wild is going to be one of, if not THE primary goal on most defensive snaps for Michigan.
That may open some things up in the passing game on throws off option looks, like the little jump pass he threw off a speed option look against Illinois.
Do you buy the Michigan blogger theory that Hart will be able to run on the OSU defense? It seems that competent rushing attacks have rolled up fairly good YPC, but since they've all fallen way behind they've had to go dormant. How have the linebackers been when not having passes batted directly to them? Is the Kerr/Homan combo at WLB a potential issue?
One of the topics that the rocket surgeons on ESPN were beating into the ground this week was whether this year's defense was better than last year's. I know the numbers say yes, but I have to think that anyone with two eyes and a basic understanding of football would have to consider that question an insult to their intelligence.
I keep looking back at the "points allowed" column on the schedule and wondering how the hell it reads "12, 7, 7, 6, 17, 7, 7, 3, 0, 10, 10."
Teams have been able to run the ball on this defense in a way that they haven't against the great (2002, 2005 and 2003 until late November) defenses of the past. I'm firmly of the belief that the solid rush defense numbers that they've posted overall are more of a function of the big leads they've been playing with that forced opposing teams to start throwing on every down.
I'm not saying it's going to be 1995 all over again, but if Michigan wins, it's going to be Mike Hart's name on that Player of the Game graphic.
The linebackers have been okay. The bar was set pretty high by last year's crew, and I don't think there's a unit in the country that measures up Carpenter, Hawk and Schlegel. This year's unit is good but (outside of Kerr) quite young. This time next year, you'll be cursing their names.
This year, they won't kill the Bucks, but as a unit they're not going to take over the game, either.
OSU last year: six interceptions. This year: 21. Why the huge disparity? Fortune, or something more significant? There's a massive turnaround in OSU's turnover margin -- they were actually negative a year ago -- despite having a monstrously kickass defense. Now: turnover city. Meaningful? Random?
Ummm... yes? I've been a big believer in Jim Feist's idea that it doesn't necessarily carry over from year-to-year regardless of personnel, but it's really hard to dismiss the fact that this team has seemingly come up with a turnover every time they've needed one this year.
This is sort of like the fact that the 2002 team just had every ball bounce their way. Is it luck? Divine intervention? Perfect positioning by the best coaching staff in the country? Outstanding physical and mental ability on the part of the players?
Sure, why not?
How about this: If OSU forces a bunch of turnovers against a usually ball-responsible Michigan team this Saturday, it's a meaningful stat. Otherwise, it's random statistical noise that means nothing.
Right: who wins and why?
Look, we all know I can't pick Michigan. I just escaped that state after a three-year sentence, and I'm not about to risk banishment back to America's version of the Siberian gulags.
That being said, I've seen people picking scores like 38-10 and 42-6. I'm not sure what anyone's basing the on. Barring a fiesta of turnovers and defensive/special teams scores, I don't see anyone breaking 30.
I don't think OSU will be able to run the ball on Michigan with anything approaching a consistent basis. I do, however, think that OSU will be able to hit a couple big playsâ€”maybe a big kick return, maybe a fly route to Robiske with Ginn or Gonzalez cutting underneath to draw the safety. Troy Smith puts up decent but not explosive numbers (175-200 yards passing, 30 yards rushing and maybe a couple scores), Pittman grinds out a quiet 15-carry, 65-yard game, and Robiskie, Hartline or Rory Nicol ends up as the leading receiver.
Defensively, the Michigan run game worries me more than the pass game. I'm not really sure why. It's probably the notion that if Michigan can run the ball they will. I don't see them throwing it 30 times unless OSU shuts down the run game or they get way behind. Mike Hart has the best game against OSU of his career (although that doesn't set the bar very high, does it?). Maybe 100 or 120 yards for him?
One of the receivers makes a big play (how's that for an overly generic statement?), and we see the waggle or a screen pass about a dozen times. Michigan holds a bunch and it doesn't get called.
In my mind, I'm really worried about stopping Hart. Of course, I was really worried about stopping Iowa and Texas as well. At this point, I've learned to shut my brain off and rely on the fact that OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock is very, very good at his job and will probably cook something up.
If this game was in Ann Arbor, Michigan probably wins. Unfortunately for you guys, it's not. I don't think Michigan will put up enough big plays to get the crowd out of it, which will certainly help. Remember- you can't go crying to the refs if it gets too loud any more.
Frankly, I think this may come down to a field goal late. For the first time since 2001, I'm not sure who that benefits.
All week long, I've been saying OSU 17, Michigan 13 so I guess I'll stick with that. Something like 20-17 is well within the realm of possibility. I definitely don't see the sense in laying a touchdown. That line is a product of OSU fans believing that failure to bet on their own team constitutes some sort of medium-level treason.
Many thanks to Tom.
This may hurt my street cred, -- as a youngish former student and Michigan devotee I should by all rights be scrapping for endzone tickets like my late-twenties peers -- but due to familial connections and a line of checks made out to the athletic department unbroken since 1958 I have the rare privilege of being close enough to the tunnel to hear the team emerge for their pregame warmups, since I am also the sort of fan who gets twitchy if not in my seat 45 minutes before kickoff.
I am not close enough to make out every word of the rhythmic chant that accompanies them out of the locker room, but one thing does come through loud and clear, one question and one answer.
And so. Here we are, on the cusp of the biggest football-related event in any of our lives. Good is 11-0. Evil is 11-0. Good is #2. Evil is #1. I am a wordy, analogy-laden person and words and analogies fail. This is like what? Nothing. This can be described how? With some gaping, useless jaw-movements sans audio and a defeated shrug.
There is no possible way to make this game more intimidating or more important. Coming off the disastrous Year of Infinite Pain, Michigan has resurrected itself in astonishing fashion. The waltzed into Notre Dame and delivered a BEAT DOWN of epic proportions. They've dominated every game this year except... uh... Ball State. They're 11-0, one of the best teams in the country and should be finishing up their season against some team they're favored against. But this is not so. Fate has conspired to place the only team in the country ranked higher than them as the last obstacle. It has also conspired to place it in Evil's stadium at a time when -- whether it's just luck over a small sample size or actual "owning" -- Good is 1-4 versus Evil in their last five matchups.
In short: that's no moon. It is a veritable Death Star of a game, implausible Jerry Bruckheimer style. The last step is less a step and more a sheer cliff, but no matter
Let's get it on.